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Cocaine Use and the Teenage Nose: What Are the Effects?

Teen nose macro closeup  

“Cocaine nose” is the name for a set of symptoms that affect a person’s nose after using cocaine regularly. Runny or stuffy noses, nose bleeds, snoring and sinus infections are all signs of cocaine use in young adults that parents can look out for.

How Cocaine Use in Teens Damages the Nose

Some of cocaine’s effects, like causing damage to the liver or brain, are the same no matter how a person uses this drug. But other side effects are directly caused by how someone takes cocaine. For example, if a teen uses cocaine by smoking it, they’re more likely to have lung infections or asthma. Coke mostly affects the nose in people who snort it. This is because cocaine itself is toxic, but also because it is usually laced with other substances that can cause damage, like cornstarch, laxatives or other drugs.

Short-Term Effects of Teen Cocaine Use on the Nose

Teen cocaine use may give people some short-term side effects, although it may also take longer for symptoms to develop. Many cocaine users have nose problems only when they get older and when the damage has built up over time. However, minor damage can begin right away, after a person has used cocaine only a handful of times.

  • Chronic Runny Nose: Teens may get a runny nose from cocaine use because the lining inside the nose becomes inflamed and produces more mucus.
  • Chronic Stuffy Nose: Teens on cocaine may have a stuffy nose if they’ve been snorting the substance. When cocaine passes through the lining inside the nose, it irritates the tissue and makes it inflamed, which may make someone feel like their nose is blocked or that they can’t breathe as well.
  • Redness or Itching: People may get a red nose from cocaine if they snort the drug. Both cocaine and the other substances it may be laced with can irritate the skin near the nostrils.
  • Nose Bleeds: This drug can damage the sensitive tissue on the inside of the nose. Nose bleeds from cocaine are a sign that the nose’s lining is being irritated and damaged.

Combined with other side effects of cocaine use, frequent allergy-like symptoms like a runny nose or congestion, or frequent nose bleeds in a teen may mean that they are using cocaine. However, many times cocaine doesn’t cause nose problems at all until the damage is severe. Sometimes the damage can only be seen by a doctor.

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine on the Nose

When it comes to the nose, long-term cocaine use can cause permanent damage. Cocaine causes the blood vessels to shrink and become tighter so that less blood can pass through. Sometimes, nearby tissues can’t get the oxygen and nutrients that they need from the blood. Snorting may cut off the blood supply to different parts of the nose, mouth, eyes and surrounding skin and bone. Cocaine’s effects on the nose include:

  • Collapsed Septum: The septum is the part of the nose made of cartilage that separates the two nostrils. Many people who use cocaine regularly develop sores in their septum. If a teen continues to use cocaine over long periods of time, these sores can turn into holes in the septum and other cartilage and bones in and around the nose. Some people develop a deviated septum from cocaine-snorting, where the cartilage becomes crooked and one nostril is bigger than the other. In extreme cases, septum damage from cocaine use can become so bad that pieces of flesh come out of the nose and the septum completely disintegrates.
  • Hard Palate Damage: Another effect of snorting cocaine is hard palate perforations. The palate, or roof of the mouth, is right next to the inside of the nose. Cocaine can eat away at this bone, leading to holes in the top of the mouth. People with this type of damage may have a more nasal-sounding voice and can sometimes have food or liquid come out of their nose when they eat or drink.
  • Changes in Appearance: Some people who have extreme nose damage have a deformity called “saddle nose.” This happens when the bony bridge of the nose or the septum becomes so damaged that they can’t support the outer part of the nose. The nose then collapses, becoming flatter and wider. Cocaine use in youth won’t usually cause this right away, but it’s something that may develop over time. This is a sign that the nose has been destroyed from cocaine use. At this point, the damage is severe enough that the nose won’t heal on its own. Plastic surgery can fix the nose, but this is usually a long, expensive process.

Symptoms of nose damage from long-term cocaine use include dryness, snoring, frequent infections, reduced sense of smell and pain. People who have these symptoms may have permanent damage and should get their noses checked by a doctor.

There are things that people can do to try to stop cocaine from doing as much damage. People can alternate nostrils, dilute cocaine in water or try a different method of using cocaine in order to help protect their nose. Of course, the best way to prevent further damage is to stop using cocaine altogether.

If you’re worried about what effects cocaine use might be having on yourself or your child, call Next Generation Village. Our team can tell you more about treatment options designed to help teens get and stay sober.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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